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The Star

The Star (1952)

Ring a Ding Ding

     It is no Sunset Blvd., but Bette Davis did a fine job playing an actress gone “box office poison” who desperately seeks another part. The Star was released two years after the powerful William HoldenGloria Swanson flick and treads along the same lines but holds its own if one’s not drawing comparisons.

     Davis is Margaret Elliot, the aging actress who upon the picture’s opening wanders buy an auction of her belongings. She is broke, a fact comically exacerbated by a sister and brother-in-law who come by the woman’s apartment demanding their usual check. Margaret has a daughter who at present lives with her ex-husband and his family. This Gretchen, played by a young Natalie Wood, adores her mother but must face the constant torment of her peers who say Margaret Elliot is no longer a star.

     Margaret tries to save face for her daughter’s sake but leaves her ex-husband’s mansion in tears. She ends up driving through the neighborhoods of the rich and famous in Hollywood while downing a bottle of liquor. She is chased by a cop before crashing her car and spending the night in jail. The next thing Margaret knows she’s been bailed out by ex-actor Jim Johannson (Sterling Hayden), who had worked with the woman on a movie before giving up his career to join the Navy and later bought a shipping yard.

     Jim tries to be the voice of wisdom and persuade Margaret that possibilities for life and career exist outside a soundstage. He convinces the woman to take a job as a department store clerk outside of town –acting her way through the interview– but she soon quits the position when two snooty shoppers recognize her.

     Margaret, with the help of her agent Harry Stone (Warner Anderson) goes to a studio head to ask for a part in a film she has been eyeballing for years. The producer Joe Morrison (Minor Watson) offers the actress the part of an older character as the lead is going to Margaret’s young rival. The old pro botches the screen test, however, by trying to make the part younger and flirtier. The star later speaks to a young writer about a part she would be perfect for, hearing the plot laid out like so much of her life, but she walks out to pursue the alternative lifestyle that had been before her all along.

      The Star might lack the murder, stalking, and insanity offered by Sunset Blvd. but it is far from lacking in the drama department. Davis does a fantastic job of expressing the range of emotions to which her character is subjected. Whether she is furious at her in-laws for asking for money, remorseful over the lies she has told her daughter about her stardom, depressed about her financial situation, or resigned to the steady decline of her lifestyle, Davis offers all with gusto. She has a few vibrant rageful rants, but none go over the top as might be easy to do. She earned an Oscar nomination for her effort.

     A variety of movies —A Star is Born being another great one– address the subject of declining fame. Actors often found their standard parts going to a younger generation and many struggled to reinvent themselves, or to convince the studios to allow them to do so. Ironically, Bette Davis is one star whose career never faltered as her character’s did in The Star. Davis’ odd beauty was already on it’s way out by the time this film was released in 1952 but she had so thoroughly defined herself as more than a pretty face that her sometimes frighteningly old facade (see Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?) did not prevent her from finding work. She also maintained her career well despite acting as a free agent after a 1949 voluntary release from her Warner Bros. contract.

Source: Bette and Joan: The Divine Feud by Shaun Considine

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2 Responses

  1. Davis is quite good in this movie. (Of course, I love her in anything!) You’re right – it’s not quite a “Sunset Boulevard” but a good film nonetheless.

  2. After reading your fantastic review I will have to watch this film. I have been meaning to get round to watching it but have never got the chance. Also, seeing as you are a fan of Miss Davis, you should check out my review on All About Eve.

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